“The story of life is quicker than the wink of an eye, the story of love is hello and goodbye…until we meet again.” That poem, reportedly written by Jimi Hendrix some hours before his death, has added to the guitarist’s mystique over the years, but as usual, the restless musician was prescient. Although his entire recorded solo catalogue amounts to the work of a mere four-year period between 1966 and 1970, we’ve continued to say hello to Jimi Hendrix’s music many years after having said goodbye to the man.
The fourth wave of releases arising out of the partnership between Experience Hendrix and Legacy Recordings has just arrived in stores. The centerpiece of this wave is undoubtedly the deluxe box set Winterland, and it’s joined by a newly reconfigured release of the 1972 LP Hendrix in the West as well as two DVDs, Blue Wild Angel: Jimi Hendrix Live at the Isle of Wight and Jimi Hendrix: The Dick Cavett Show. Both DVDs feature material new to these editions.
When Hendrix took the stage on August 30, 1970 at The Isle of Wight, could anyone have imagined the incendiary young talent would be gone in less than three weeks’ time, on September 18? The retooled Hendrix in the West (88697 93622 2, 2011) – available on single CD or double LP – opens with the artist’s only pairing of “(God Save) The Queen” with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The performances were unexpected, with “Pepper” not a regular staple of Hendrix’s set at that time. (He famously performed it for the first time with two Beatles – George and Paul – in attendance in London, 1967, and McCartney still savors the moment in recollection today.) Hendrix was joined by Mitch Mitchell (drums) and Billy Cox (bass), a group that brought more than requisite power to the “power trio” concept. The two-song opening salvo is the only material from the Isle of Wight stand, available in filmed form on the Blue Wild Angel DVD.
Other performances on the new In the West are drawn from concerts held at the San Diego Sports Arena on May 24, 1969, Berkeley Community Center on May 30, 1970 and San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom on October 12, 1968. The original LP also contained two tracks from the famous Royal Albert Hall stand of February 24, 1969, but those performances of “Little Wing” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” have been replaced with new renditions from Winterland and the San Diego Sports Arena, respectively. (Although the Albert Hall tracks are reportedly in legal limbo at present, both are available on the Experience Hendrix/MCA Jimi Hendrix Experience box set.) Three tracks are wholly original to this new version of the album: “Fire,” “I Don’t Live Today” and “Spanish Castle Magic,” all from the May 25, 1969 stint in San Diego.
Despite the disparate recording sources, In the West makes for a cohesive listen, with dialogue sprinkled throughout for the illusion of one complete performance. In addition to the Hendrix/Mitchell/Cox triumverate, it also presents the Jimi Hendrix Experience line-up of Hendrix, Mitchell and Noel Redding on the Winterland and San Diego tracks. The renowned Wally Heider Recording truck captured the majority of the songs at both Winterland and Berkeley; sound designer Abe Jacob, who later pioneered the concept of sound design on Broadway, engineered at Berkeley.
In the West is an attention-grabbing set. Perhaps most exciting are two unusual cover versions, “Johnny B. Goode” and “Blue Suede Shoes.” There’s great respect but zero nostalgia in both electrifying tracks. “Blue Suede Shoes” is even more dramatically reinvented than “Johnny,” kicking off with a riff that’s unmistakably Hendrix and completely unique for the Carl Perkins song legendarily co-opted by Elvis Presley. (The performance actually came from the afternoon sound check!) For a bit of fun, listen carefully for the audible “thank you very much” as part of Hendrix’s pre-song comments.
There may be no better example on the album of the band’s interplay than “I Don’t Live Today,” with Mitchell’s drum solo, Redding’s bass and Hendrix’s scorching lead guitar taking their instruments into the stratosphere. The track almost sounds like an exorcism of some very powerful demons! Hendrix works in a few notes of “The Star-Spangled Banner” while pushing rock to its most primal limits. Mitchell tears through another solo on “Spanish Castle Magic,” which features snatches of “Sunshine of Your Love.”
Just as good is a definitive, 13+ minute take on Hendrix’s blues “Red House”: “There’s a red house over yonder…that’s where my baby stays…” It’s a simple blues, delivered in a measured yet smoking performance. His improvisations rarely took a song in an expected direction, whether lyrical or fiery. Sure, the replacement of the Royal Albert Hall tracks makes Hendrix in the West far from a straight reissue, and it’s still oddly titled, seeing as the Isle of Wight tracks are still there, among the other performances actually recorded “in the west.” But it’s nonetheless a treat to have one of the original posthumous Hendrix releases (with which so many fans grew up) back on vinyl and CD in a form resembling the original.
Just days after The Jimi Hendrix Experience took the stage on October 10, 1968 at Bill Graham’s San Francisco palace Winterland (the venue immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Waltz), the group would release the double album Electric Ladyland. Yet even that sprawling collection couldn’t contain the boundless energy and ferocious talent of Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding. Thankfully, Wally Heider’s mobile recording unit was dispatched to Winterland to capture an aural document of the three night/six show stand. This was, after all, the period in which Hendrix most fervently pursued opportunities to stretch his music and jam, completely conscious and in control of his improvisational abilities that were pushing the envelope of what was commonly accepted as rock music.
Visit Winterland, after the jump!
The simply-titled Winterland box set, available on CD (88697 93619 2), LP and in one-disc highlights CD form, marks the first official release of much of the material; select songs were previously available on just one disc from Rykodisc. Although the complete shows have circulated on six discs, the Experience Hendrix/Legacy remaster sounds more crisp and in-your-face than ever before, and the set’s producers Janie Hendrix, Eddie Kramer and John McDermott have chosen quality over quantity, distilling the performances to four compact discs. The first three are formatted as one disc per evening (drawn from both the early and late shows) and the fourth rounds up odds and ends, plus a 19-minute, freewheeling backstage interview from a Boston gig one month after Winterland. Each disc is sequenced so seamlessly that you’ll be hard-pressed to notice which performances came from which set.
Winterland offers a thrilling immersion into the simpatico interplay between Hendrix, Mitchell and Redding. These electrifying (literally and figuratively!) four discs show the young leader’s confidence at an all-time high but also a true generosity in performance towards his fellow musicians. Guests were plentiful onstage (flautist Virgil Gonsalves, bassist Jack Casady, organist Herbie Rich of the Buddy Miles Express) and off (Janis Joplin) when Jimi played San Francisco. When he noodled with other musicians, Hendrix was expanding his own musical vocabulary, redefining the rules of guitar rock along the way. There can be little doubt that Hendrix would have pursued a path in jazz fusion as he blurs all genre lines in these combustible performances.
The first sound you’ll hear on Winterland is that of an audience on October 10, cheering in anticipation. Just why is in evidence once Hendrix and company launch into the nearly 15-minute jam session that is called “Tax Free.” With its shifting changes, free-form approach and attack, it’s plain to see how this aggressive style of playing became so influential. There’s a steady flow throughout Hendrix’s Winterland performances of rapid, sharp turns and quirks. His lead lines follow, one after another, in such lightning-quick style it’s hard to believe he’s only one person!
The audience’s excitement hardly flags, as the band members show little sense of just going through the motions. (Would this impossibly dynamic and adaptable performer have ever reached that stage? It’s hard to say.) One of the many discoveries of Winterland is the guitarist’s sense of humor. It’s on display in his engaging and easygoing between-song banter, a great amount of which is present over the four discs. Whether Hendrix is mock-apologizing for the ruckus (“We’re tuning between every single song…because we really care for your ears!”) or self-deprecatingly noting of the song “Lover Man” that it’s just “a regular straight rock thing,” we get a sense that he knew when he was pushing the limits musically. All of this talk sets Winterland apart.
As with so many live performers, Hendrix included contemporary cover versions in his live gigs, and these are particularly exciting. There’s a palpable frisson thanks to the heady San Francisco atmosphere when Hendrix launches into his variations on “Sunshine of Your Love,” featuring perhaps the most famous classic rock riff he didn’t write! (It’s certainly rivaled by “Foxey Lady,” heard on both Discs 1 and 2.) A groovy, searing “Wild Thing” makes for songwriter Chip Taylor’s wildest, feedback-laden garage fantasy! Though just over three minutes, it’s far from radio pop. Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Casady drops in for Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor.” Best of all might be The Experience’s slowed down, heavy take on Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” We’re given the chance to hear it twice, once from October 11 and once from the next night. What some of the songs lack in polish, they make up for in raw emotion; live Hendrix is always a great departure from studio Hendrix.
“Sunshine of Your Love” and “Like a Rolling Stone” are just two of the songs heard on more than one disc. With the four discs derived from six shows, a number of songs are indeed repeated, but the selected performances are far from identical. (The superior October 12 performance of “Rolling Stone” is reprised on a companion CD single along with “Spanish Castle Magic” from October 11, which is otherwise unavailable and not on the box set.) The group’s progression over the evenings is evident when comparing both renditions of “Sunshine.” The October 12 performance is much funkier than the first outing on October 10. And while even the most tautly-constructed songs are expanded as jams, there’s very little “fat” on them. While you’re waiting for the re-statement of the melody, it won’t be long before you realize that you’ve been listening to the “meat” all along! Hardly a note is tossed off. Disc 2 offers another confident if considerably shorter (10 minutes) reading of “Tax Free,” in which Hendrix, Mitchell and Redding masterfully slow the jam down to a dirge, then build up steam once more. The staple “Purple Haze” is the only track to appear on all three discs; it was performed at all six shows. Before the 5-minute version performed on October 11, Hendrix is captured quipping, “I’m so tired!” A rare respite is a calming “Little Wing,” performed after the blazing “Sunshine of Your Love” from the October 12 disc.
Could any other era have produced Jimi Hendrix? The one-two punch of “Hey Joe” and “Star-Spangled Banner” on Disc 1 speak as strongly of the time as is possible, both politically and musically. Hendrix doesn’t even address the main melody of “Banner” until the three-and-one-half minute mark! On the version included on Disc 4, the national anthem even makes way for a quote of the theme from Bonanza! When he questions, “Have you ever been experienced?,” he’s slinging the lyrics, practically spoken, over a potent wall of sound. (Flautist Virgil Gonsalves is audible on the October 11 version of the song “Are You Experienced,” and is name-checked by Hendrix after its conclusion. This track may have been edited for length, primarily in its opening jam.)
David Fricke contributes an essay to the box set’s 36-page booklet, putting the performances into historical perspective, and also detailing the origins of the songs with a critical appreciation and assessment. Hendrix’s longtime engineer Eddie Kramer has mixed this set while George Marino has mastered. The results should please anybody only familiar with the past non-commercial releases.
Completist’s Alert: In addition to the CD single mentioned, a vinyl single has also been released with “Johnny B. Goode” from In the West backed with an October 10 “Purple Haze” not on the box set. A fifth Amazon-exclusive CD also chronicles Hendrix at Winterland, but its five tracks (including a cover of Jim Capaldi’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy”) are drawn from an earlier stand on February 4, 1968 previously released on Dagger Records’ Paris ‘67/San Francisco ’68. One more tidbit for the die-hards out there: It appears that two of the six October shows can now be assembled in toto from these official releases. The October 10 late set makes up Disc 1 of the box set, and the October 11 late set appears as Disc 2, save “Spanish Castle Magic,” which can be acquired on the Like a Rolling Stone single.)
With the multi-format release of Winterland, yet another chapter in Jimi Hendrix’s career has finally come to light. At one point during the concerts, he remarked to the audience that he was simply trying to play a “true feeling.” However rough, however ragged certain performances might be, it’s doubtful Jimi Hendrix was ever capable of playing anything less.